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Bill Nye

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Fiscal Cliffhanging

Posted: 12/29/2012 1:03 pm

If you're like me (and I know I am), you're concerned about our government falling off or over a cliff of financial ruin, or loss of credit and trust worldwide -- in short, trouble. To our representatives: I am compelled to remind you all that you work for us, the people, your constituents. You all don't work for yourselves. We don't pay you to show off. You got this gig to govern. In conservative business terms: you are managers. You come to work (this weekend) to manage. Managing any program involves two things at least, cost and schedule. In everyday life we say, "time and money."

Speaking of everyday life, there is an almost perfect analogy that many, if not all of you, are familiar with. If you want to lose weight, you cannot get there just by eating a little less. You have to exercise. In similar fashion, you can't lose weight just by working out now and then. You have to work the problem from both ends. You have to diet, and you have to exercise.

So it is with the federal budget. You can't just make cuts. You can't just raise revenue. You have to do both. So, to our representatives, those who work for us, I say, please do both. And, do it by the end of the year.

Right away, everyone wants to know what's to be cut. Whatever you all settle on cutting, it should not be science. Investment in science is investment in innovation. New ideas are what keep the U.S. economy driving forward. When asked, virtually everyone in the U.S. will express concern, or just plain outrage, at how "nothing," or nearly nothing is manufactured in the U.S. anymore. It's made overseas, in Asia especially. Let's say that perception is true. Why do people from around the world still want to move to the U.S.? Why do we negotiate the legal immigration of 800,000 people a year? It's simply because the U.S. is still the nexus for people with new ideas for new things, and new ways to do old things. By the way, new ways to do old things has led to the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry.

The U.S. is where humankind innovates. U.S. investment in basic research, and space exploration especially, is why we have the Internet; it's why we are able to raise crop yields to feed seven billion of us, instead of the fifth that many barely a century ago. Science is why the U.S. remains the world leader in technology. It's why we have smart phones, advanced medical care, weather forecasts, flood level prediction, pictures from Mars, and online shopping. Science is not where you save your money.

Part of the process of science is an understanding of numbers and mathematics. We have to raise revenue. Stating this as objectively as possible: the notion that people making over $250,000 a year would grow deeply concerned about paying 5 percent more in taxes on their income above that quarter million is almost certainly incorrect. Furthermore, no rich person decides whether or not to invest in a new business based on the tax rate for his or her heirs after he or she dies. That's not how venture capitalists, or entrepreneurs, or simply normal people think. Arguments about those two specific ideas don't matter. Suggestions for cuts to the already modest investments in science don't matter, not this weekend.

It's clear that a great many spending cuts are proposed and have been thought through and worked out by hours and weeks of negotiating. That is a good bit of governing, or it could be. Without raising revenue, you can't get there from here. Looking things over as objectively as possible, it certainly appears that you have to raise taxes. To propose, or suggest, or stand firm on anything else, is unrealistic. It's like trying to lose weight without exercise. If this no-tax-raise notion is why an agreement is not reached this weekend, it will be someone's fault. We on the outside are doing the math. We can see the financial calories in and calories out. We'd rather not cast blame as we ring in the New Year. We would rather sing praise -- after you all had gotten down to crunching the relevant numbers. Instead of having to take blame, you all have a chance to take the credit for getting your jobs done -- by Monday midnight.

 
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